Manufactured Education Crisis Engenders Violence

18 Dec

By Thomas Ultican 12/17/2019

On October 23, the regularly scheduled Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) board meeting descended into chaos accompanied by violent reaction from school police. One parent received a broken rib; two elementary school teachers reported severe bruising and a small mother suffered two torn ligaments and a meniscus tear. They were protesting the closing of Kaiser elementary school which is the result of a manufactured crisis beyond the control of the local school board. Billionaire “philanthropists” and the state of California created and exacerbated Oakland’s chronic budget issues.

Today’s budget problems stem back to the state assuming control of OUSD in 2003. Ken Epstein of Oakland Crossings described the situation when the state installed an administrator. “At the time, State Schools’ Supt. O’Connell [Democrat] and influential State Senator Don Perata [Democrat] were instrumental in putting together a deal requiring the district to accept a $100 million loan, even though it was only $37 million in debt.”

The Alameda County Office of Education and the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT), a state-funded nonprofit that advises districts on financial matters, both played a large role in pushing OUSD into receivership (2003-2009) and forcing the district to take a $100 million state loan. OUSD did not ask for the loan. They had enough money in construction funds to cover the shortfall if the state would approve borrowing from that fund. The state had given other districts this kind of permission but refused it to Oakland.

Kathy Murphy reported in the 2009 East Bay Times, “Six years after the largest state loan ever made to a California school district, the Oakland school district is emerging from state receivership $89 million in debt.” After six years of state administration, the budget deficit grew from $37 million to $89 million.

O’Connell Selects Eli Broad’s Trainee as Administrator

In 2002, the multi-billionaire Eli Broad (rhythms with toad) decided to establish his own training academy for school administrators. With no background in education or experience other than attending public school in Detroit, Broad was so rich he could just do it. He did not believe schools had an education problem; he believed they had a management problem. It was his theory that large urban school districts did not need education leadership – consultants can be hired for that – they needed business management leadership.

One of the key management ideas taught at the Broad Academy is “right-sizing.” It is probably in the Broad School Closure Handbook; Closing Schools as a Means for Addressing Budgetary Challenges that the first use of the terminology “right sizing” is applied to a school district. Now this Broad construct has slipped into common usage by Oakland’s political and administrative leaders.

Another key component undermining OUSD was the state’s Fiscal Crisis Management Assistance Team (FCMAT). In 1991, new California, Governor Pete Wilson, signed the team into law. FCMAT (pronounced “fick-mat”) is a state sponsored non-profit located in Kearn County. It is supposed to help school districts identify and solve fiscal problems. However, FCMAT has developed a reputation as a neoliberal organization that has a racial bias against schools in Black and Brown neighborhoods. An Oakland school leader admitted they felt FCMAT was biased against Oakland.

When OUSD discovered its budget shortfall in 2003, FCMAT started pushing for a state takeover and Oakland Mayor, Jerry Brown, seemed to welcome it. Majority reports that when OUSD proposed covering the shortfall with construction funds,

“Tom Henry, the CEO of California’s Fiscal Crisis and Management Team (FCMAT) opposed this plan, and Mayor Brown questioned it heavily. (During a state takeover, FCMAT would be responsible for monitoring the school district’s financial progress.) Phone records later obtained by the Oakland Tribune revealed over 40 phone calls on key dates between Brown, Henry, and Randolph Ward, who would end up in charge of OUSD when it was placed under state control, in the two months before the state takeover.”

A California central coast politician named Jack O’Connell was elected California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2002. He selected Randolph Ward, a Broad Academy graduate, to be Oakland’s state administrator. When O’Connell ran for state superintendent, his largest campaign donors had been Netflix CEO Reed Hastings ($250,000), venture capitalist John Doerr ($205,000), and Eli Broad ($100,000). Brown described the state takeover as a “total win” for Oakland.

The Broadies of Oakland

2003-2017 Broad Academy Graduates and Superintendents of OUSD

Broad Academy graduates are often disparagingly called Broadies.

The OUSD information officer in 2003 was Ken Epstein. He recounts a little of what it was like when Ward became the administrator:

“I remember a school board meeting where Ward and the board were on stage. Each item on the agenda was read aloud, and Ward would say, “passed.” Then the next item was read. In less than an hour, the agenda was completed. At that point, Ward said, “Meeting adjourned” and walked out of the board room and turned out the lights, leaving board members sitting in the dark.”

When Ward arrived in Oakland, the district was in the midst of implementing the Bill Gates sponsored small school initiative which is still causing problems. The recently closed Roots that caused so much discontent in January was one of the Gates small schools. Ward opened 24 of them (250-500 students) which in practice meant taking an existing facility and dividing it into two to five schools. He closed fourteen regularly sized schools.

Upon Ward’s arrival in Oakland there were 15 charter schools and when he left for San Diego three years later there were 28 charter schools.

Epstein related a story from attending a district leader’s cabinet meeting when Ward asked a Broad trained accountant to get numbers on how much money would be saved by closing a school. Three weeks later the accountant said no savings and Ward responded, “Then go back and figure out another reason for closing schools.”

Kimberly Statham who was a classmate of Ward’s at the Broad Academy took his place in 2006. The following year a third Broad Graduate, Vincent Mathews took her place.

After a short period of no Broadie in the superintendent’s seat, Antwan Wilson was hired in 2014. Shortly after that, the New York Times reported that the Broad Foundation had granted the district $6 million for staff development and other programs over the last decade. The Broad Center also subsidized the salaries of at least 10 ex-business managers who moved into administrative jobs at the district office.

Kyla Johnson-Trammell, an Oakland resident and educator with OUSD, was named to replace Antwan Wilson in 2017. When he exited to lead Washington DC’s schools, Wilson left a mess in Oakland. Mother Jones magazine said Wilson saddled the district with a $30 million deficit. The article continued, “A state financial risk report from August 2017 concluded that Oakland Unified, under Wilson, had ‘lost control of its spending, allowing school sites and departments to ignore and override board policies by spending beyond their budgets.”’

The preponderance of the problems in OUSD are related to the state takeover, FCMAT and the leadership provided by Broad Academy graduates.

School Board Under Attack from All Sides

A March Oakland Post article says,

“A new report from the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT) indicates that the State of California, represented by FCMAT and the Alameda County Superintendent of Education, is requiring the school district to make budget cuts of jobs and programs totaling about $30 million this year, regardless of any costs generated by increased salaries for teachers and other school employees.”

The Alameda Civil Grand Jury says the district has run a debt of $20 to $30 million for the past fifteen years. It states, “School occupancy must be assessed and painful decisions made regarding closure and consolidation as soon as possible.”

In 2018, the Alameda County Office of Education rejected OUSD’s three-year budget plan saying it did not adequately address needed budget reductions; prompting school activist Ahsan Nilofer to ask, “What will FCMAT and the County Office consider to be an adequate plan?”

Another drag on the district’s finances is this past school year; the district had to pay FCMAT and the county $1.4 million for their services.

At the same time the coalition “Oakland Not for Sale” demands:

  1. “Stop School Closures”
  2. “End the School to Prison Pipeline”
  3. “Stop the charter school takeover”
  4. “Let the people see the money”

This is the organization that led the demonstration at the board meeting in October that ended in violence and chaos.

Mike Hutchinson of the Oakland Public Education Network says that OUSD ended the 2018-2019 school year with a $21 million surplus not a deficit. He also has announced that he will be running for the district-5 board seat in 2020.

A board member explained that $4 million of that claimed surplus comes from the board purposely underestimating title 1 and title 4 money from the Department of Education because they did not trust the actions of the Trump administration. The rest of the money is thought to be in restricted funds that can only be spent of designated categories.

The board was forced to adopt the 2019-2020 budget without good numbers to rely upon. An EdSource article relates that “Board member Shanthi Gonzales said staff didn’t give the board enough details about department budgets, school budgets or even how many employees the district has, what they do and how much they earn.” However, the district’s state trustee said district operations would come to “a screeching halt” if the board didn’t meet its June 30 budget approval deadline.

In addition to all of these problems, billionaires and their school privatization organizations are attempting to purchase the school board. In Oakland the on the ground political organization leading the privatization agenda is GO Public Schools.

Go Political Spending Chart

Funding to GO Public School Independent Expenditures Effort

School Board Winners Finance Chart

Winning OUSD Board Member Campaign Support

In the 2018 election, Gary Yee was the recipient of almost $146,000 in independent expenditure support from mostly billionaires working to privatize public schools in Oakland. His victory makes him the third member of the seven seat board to owe their election to GO Public Schools.

FCMAT from the state of California, the Alameda County Office of Education and the Alameda County Grand Jury are all ordering the OUSD school board to make budget cuts and close schools. At the same time residents of the city don’t want to hear about schools being closed and with reason do not believe the state and county budget analysis. Unfortunately, the only place they can express their outrage is at the local school board. However, there are some really good people on this board who are being put through a ringer by forces beyond their control. No matter what they do, it is loudly criticized and they are personally demonized as selling out the city.

The fundamental problem is Oakland has a dual education system with 37,000 students in public schools and 15,000 in charter schools. It costs more to operate two systems. Every school district in California that has more than 10% of their students in charter schools has severe financial problems. Oakland has the largest percentage of charter school students in the state with 29% so financial issues should be the expectation.

This is an education crisis that was manufactured by the super wealthy and implemented by neoliberal politicians.

Twitter: @tultican

6 Responses to “Manufactured Education Crisis Engenders Violence”

  1. Mike Hutchinson December 18, 2019 at 3:05 am #

    This is a really good write up. Thanks. My only disagreement is that we do not believe that it’s out of the school board’s control. The Oakland School Board is the problem. Let’s talk soon.
    #EraseTheBoard
    #AuditOUSD

    Like

  2. doctorfarr December 21, 2019 at 9:52 am #

    Good article. Like Mike Hutchinson, although with a bit less energy, I’m involved in the struggle vs school closings and charter schools here in Oakland. I live in the mostly Latino Fruitvale district, and I’m trying to educate Latino parents about the need to organize to stop school closings BEFORE the 2020 elections.
    I think you are a bit soft on the billionaire-funded school board members in this paragraph:

    “A board member explained that $4 million of that claimed surplus comes from the board purposely underestimating title 1 and title 4 money from the Department of Education because they did not trust the actions of the Trump administration. The rest of the money is thought to be in restricted funds that can only be spent of designated categories.”

    Restricted funds baloney! Mike Hutchinson has pointed out several times in public meetings that the official school district budgets during the past 3 years have HIDDEN a surplus of some $30 million annually to create a phony deficit of $30 million that is used to justify the need to close “underutilized” (non-crowded) schools. They do this by projecting $40+ million each year for “books & supplies” when they darned well know that they only spend $13 million on this item. Their overpaid financial administrators call it “sequestering” instead of “hiding”
    By the way, they also spend (waste) $59 million each year on “contracts & services” (largely consultants), which is outrageously expensive compared to what other Bay Area school districts spend proportionally on such and item, and they refuse to publish an itemized list of who gets how much for what services
    Pete Farruggio
    Associate Professor Bilingual Education (retired)
    University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

    Like

    • tultican December 21, 2019 at 6:32 pm #

      I suspect you and Mike are mostly correct. I find the budget issue in Oakland very difficult to comprehend and wonder if anyone really has a handle on it. It is very strange that the chief financial officers keep quitting and it looks like the board is left making a best guess. Now with FCMAT and the Alameda Grand Jury demanding budget cuts, I can see why the board believes they probably have a large budget deficit. The obvious underlying problem is the large percentage of privatized schools that have been consistently eating into the OUSD finances.

      Like

      • doctorfarr December 22, 2019 at 12:45 pm #

        Maybe some of them don’t get it, but they could at least demand an investigation. Their naivete makes them unsuited to be responsible for public money. The others are corrupt & in on the game of privatization. Puppets of their funders!

        Like

  3. donmacleay January 19, 2020 at 6:11 pm #

    Good overview.
    I consider a lot of our problems stem from the manufactured crisis and artificial deadlines.
    Both are probably inspired in part by the elected board’s need to maneuver around their considerable opposition.
    This board is elected down ballot, mostly on the strength of endorsements from politicians and groups that should know better. Even the Sierra Club endorsed pro closure, pro charter Jody London. I know because I was her opponent.
    The result is a board run by pro austerity, pro charter members with close links to Broad, Rogers and other “charter movement” billionaire driven groups. The most misleading of which is called Great Oakland Public Schools.
    A public school board run by the “charter” privitizers is akin to have a group of real estate speculators running the planning commission.

    Liked by 1 person

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  1. Thomas Ultican: The Manufactured Disaster that Crushed the Oakland Public Schools | Diane Ravitch's blog - December 18, 2019

    […] Thomas Ultican, the chronicler of the Destroy Public Education movement, writes here about the calculated destruction of the Oakland Public School District, which has suffer… […]

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